We will have to wait a while for history to judge the economic impact of the massive avalanche (numerically) of group sanctions ever imposed against any outcast country in history. In the meantime, we can evaluate other available data and allow them to demonstrate their own assessment from a single reference point. Rosmorrechflot are the Russian Federal Agency for Maritime and Inland Water Transport, and provide such data.
Much has been said and written about the ebb and flow of gas or oil through pipelines, especially in the Western media. Road traffic is always a good indicator of infrastructure, air traffic has wings and speed but has volume limitations, while the seaport perspective remains a stable basic indicator when examining cargo volume.
Using Rosmorrechflot data, we can see that over the past 10 months (January-October), cargo traffic in Russian seaports has grown by 7.8% year-on-year to 749.3 million tons. Dry cargo handling increased by 14.7% to 382 million tons. The highest growth rate is recorded by grain cargoes, chemical and mineral fertilizers, scrap iron, cargoes in containers and cargoes on ferries. Bulk cargo handling increased by 1.5% to 367.3 million tons, with oil, food and chemical cargoes growing the fastest in that subgroup.
Russian cargo turnover in Arctic ports decreased by 0.2% to 81.8 million tons. Dry cargo handling increased by 7.7 percent to 26.2 million tons, while liquid cargo handling decreased by 3.5 percent to 55.6 million tons. Despite current geopolitical stresses, cargo traffic in Russia’s Baltic ports (including St. Petersburg) increased by 2.5% to 208.8 million tons. Dry cargo handling increased by 19.9% to 94.8 million tons, while liquid cargo handling decreased by 8% to 114 million tons.
Ports of Azov/Black Sea
Despite the ongoing Ukrainian military operations in the Azov-Black Sea region, cargo traffic in these ports increased by 17.2% to 251.3 million tons. Dry cargo handling increased by 26.2% and reached 122.9 million tons; current cargoes increased by 9.8% and amounted to 128.4 million tons.
Ports of the Caspian Sea
With increasing investor engagement and aligned national interests in the area, cargo traffic at the Caspian Basin ports, which are transit ports for the International North-South Transport Corridor (ITC), increased by 36.1% to 6.5 million tons . Handling of dry cargo in the basin reached 4 million tons (1.6 times increase), liquid cargo 2.5 million tons (+4.9%).
Ports of the Pacific Ocean
With stronger ties between Russia and the countries of the Pacific region, the cargo traffic of Russia’s Far Eastern ports increased by 5.7% to 200.9 million tons. Transshipment of dry cargo increased by 3.9% to 134.1 million tons, and liquid cargo by 9.6% to 66.8 million tons. This includes Russia’s Far Eastern cargo from the main port of Vladivostok to ports on China’s east coast (including Shanghai, the world’s busiest port by volume) and as far southwest as India.
Main Russian seaports
Although these figures reflect the period from January to October, it is quite possible, based on my commercial sources, that by the end of 2023 the actual total increase could be 8% or more.
A look ahead
The data reflect the efforts Moscow has made – and to some extent expected – to accelerate the development of existing markets and seek new ones. In terms of developing existing markets, Russian trade with the countries of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) has increased, although they are usually served by road and rail. Nonetheless, in the case of landlocked Kazakhstan, Russia’s main trading partner in the EAEU, while Russia serves the country from its Caspian ports, there have been discussions about the development railway connection directly from the Russian Arctic. China’s Belt and Road Initiative has and will continue to help the development of connectivity, not only the Trans-Afghanistan Railway which will connect landlocked but valuable Central Asian markets such as Uzbekistan via a railway running across Afghanistan and Pakistan to the latter’s Arabian Sea port of Gwadar. The North-South Transport Corridor, which is still being developed to its potential capacity, connects Russia’s Caspian ports via multimodal routes that pass through Iran and can deliver goods to the Middle East. Russia has already tested it cargo transportation to Saudi Arabia.
Here, Russia’s membership in organizations such as BRICS, which as of January 2024 includes the five countries of the MENA region plus Argentina, and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which covers practically all of Eurasia and is expanding to South Asia, both have a beneficial effect. In the past 18 months, a number of new direct shipping routes have also been established, not only from Russia to India, several African countries and Latin America.
This is indicative that there are enough buyers and sellers worldwide who are willing and able to receive and transport goods back to Russia; and these trade flows are growing even considering the current sanctions that the G7 has mostly lifted. Global trade, perhaps to the surprise of the West, is not dependent on the West at all. It more than has its own identity, purpose and increasingly active space for trade development. The lesson to note here is that the West has been left behind.
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